NEW YORK TIMES - Detective’s Name on New 9/11 Health Bill


Published: June 24, 2009

Detective James Zadroga, called in 2006 the first rescuer to die from inhaling dust at ground zero, became a posthumous source of controversy when the city’s medical examiner concluded that his death was not directly related to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now Detective Zadroga’s name has cropped up again, this time attached to a bill in the Senate that would establish long-term monitoring and health care for those affected by exposure to the World Trade Center site.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, introduced by the New York and New Jersey Senate delegations on Wednesday, would establish a monitoring and treatment program, including mental health services, for first responders and New Yorkers exposed to the dust. It would also reopen the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund that Congress established after the attack, while limiting liability for the city and trade center contractors in previously resolved or pending claims.

The bill has no cost estimate yet. A similar bill introduced the House of Representatives in February would cost $12 billion, said the latest bill’s main sponsor, Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Democrat of New York.

The House bill, which also bears Detective Zadroga’s name, is currently in committee. Meanwhile, questions linger as to whether he was a Sept. 11 victim.

Detective Zadroga, 34, worked on the rescue and recovery efforts at ground zero for about three weeks after the Sept. 11 attack. Later, his family said, he began experiencing flulike symptoms and difficulty breathing — common symptoms in first responders that doctors called the “World Trade Center cough.” He died in January 2006 at his parents’ home in Ocean County, N.J.

In April 2006, a report on an autopsy by the Ocean County medical examiner’s office concluded that Detective Zadroga’s death was a direct result of his rescue activities at the trade center site. As a result, for 18 months he was widely cited as the first to die from inhaling dust and particles at ground zero.

But that judgment was called into question in October 2007, when the New York medical examiner concluded that Detective Zadroga’s death was not caused by toxic trade center dust at all. Instead, the medical examiner, Dr. Charles S. Hirsch, said it was a result of injecting ground-up prescription drugs. At the time, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cited the finding as an example of unpopular science and said Detective Zadroga was “not a hero” — remarks he later retracted, with an apology to the family. The mayor and the police commissioner added Detective Zadroga’s name to the Wall of Heroes at 1 Police Plaza last year.

“We don’t name the bills,” said Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor, when asked if the city supported naming a Sept. 11 victims’ bill for Detective Zadroga.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Bloomberg said Detective Zadroga “was a police officer who did what we asked him to do, and you can’t walk away from that,” according to a transcript provided by the city.

Ms. Gillibrand said she believed Detective Zadroga died of Sept. 11-related causes, a conclusion her spokesman said she drew from the initial autopsy.

“His lungs looked like the lungs of an 80-year-old person,” she said. “Whatever the immediate cause of death, the fundamental cause of death was his grave respiratory illness, based on all the reports that I’ve read.”

Detective Zadroga’s father, Joseph Zadroga, said he was pleased the bill was named after his son. “It’s an important issue because of the first responders,” he said. “They’re not getting the proper care that they should be getting.”

This is not the first bill named for the detective. A previous House bill, introduced in 2007, never came to a vote.